For the average, battered 9-5er, possibly the most dreaded moment of the day is the very beginning: that good ol’ morning alarm clock.
People have love / hate relationships with their alarms. Everyone talks about how they so rudely wake them out of peaceful dreams back into the chaotic world of rush hour traffic—but they keep using them nonetheless.
That’s because they’re really important if you don’t want to get fired for showing up late to work, or get attendance points deducted for tardiness in college.
But this raises an important question for us. Alarm clocks are auditory; that is, they wake hearing people up with a really loud noise. So when you consider the fact that most deaf people work jobs just like the rest of us, it may make you wonder how in the world they’re able to consistently wake up in time, day after day.
To answer this question fully, let’s first dig a little deeper into the actual mechanism of how people wake up.
How Does Anyone Wake Up?
On the surface, this may seem like a stupid question. But once you think about it for a little bit, you’ll realize it’s anything but easy to answer. After all, if your brain is unconscious when you sleep, how does it “decide” to wake itself up? Can’t only a conscious brain take action like that?
Scientists are constantly working on understanding the sleeping and waking mechanisms more fully—there’s a lot that we still don’t know. But what we do know is that there seem to be two main areas of the brain that govern the processes of sleeping and waking.
The Suprachiasmatic Nucleus: The Sleep Regulator
You probably got tongue-tied just trying to read that in your head, so we’ll call it the SCN going forward.
The SCN is a small group of cells in the brain, often referred to as the body’s “pacemaker.” It’s best to think of the SCN as the broad controller of the body’s 24-hour cycle of sleeping and waking.
It’s true that the SCN sometimes creates specific chemicals that assist in waking up and falling asleep, but it’s best to think of it more as an overall organizer, or a parent with a bunch of unruly kids. Essentially, it regulates all of the body’s natural cyclical processes related to sleeping and waking, and it helps them all work together, in unison.
The SCN is why you get tired at around the same time every day, and wake up naturally at around the same time every morning.
The Reticular Activating System: The Waker-Upper
The reticular activating system, or the RAS, is where the sleep / wake rubber really meets the road.
The RAS stays vigilant even when you’re asleep. It’s basically your brain’s guard sentry, making sure that only the most important information makes its way into the brain.
The RAS is the “conscious” part of your unconscious brain, remaining aware of all different kinds of inputs while you sleep, whether auditory, visual, sensory, or other. The RAS is what senses your alarm clock, the morning light coming in through your bedroom window, or your neighbor’s dog barking obnoxiously loud at 5:30 am.
Once the RAS senses these types of signals, it zaps your brain awake; and voila, you’re back in the land of the living!
Ways Deaf People Wake Up
At this point, the answer to our question should be starting to make itself clear to you.
How do deaf people wake up? The same way that everyone else wakes up—the only difference is that their RAS’s can’t perceive auditory signals.
Let’s look now at some specific methods deaf people use to make up for their RAS’s lack of auditory perception.
Alarm clocks aren’t always as necessary as you might think. Some deaf people wake up on time just fine using these natural methods below.
Everyone, deaf or hearing, has had the glorious experience of waking up naturally to rays of sun poking their way through the window (added bonus if the smell of coffee is wafting into the room).
Generally speaking, light sends a signal through the eyes that the brain then decodes. But if a person is asleep, what’s the only conscious part of the brain? That’s right—the RAS! Whether a person is deaf or not, the RAS senses the morning light coming in through the window and then sends a signal to the other parts of the brain, essentially saying, “It’s time to get up!”
Waking up to natural light is enjoyable, but what if the sun comes up at 7:00 am and you needed to be at work by 6:30? Not the best situation.
Establishing a Routine
This solution works a bit better for deaf people who have consistent, early morning obligations.
As you could probably guess, the SCN is more involved in this process than the RAS. Remember, the SCN governs the general cyclical processes of waking up and falling asleep. So by waking up and going to bed at the same time every single morning and night, a deaf person allows the SCN to align the cranial and bodily functions accordingly. This means that every subsequent morning and night, the process gets easier.
Keep in mind though, a lot of discipline is required in order to really establish a routine like this. Here are three tips to help anyone with falling asleep at the same time every night:
- Put away your phone;
- Turn off your phone;
- Don’t look at your phone.
Help From Friends
Many deaf people live with hearing people who also need to get up early. In this case, the old fashioned solution of being woken up by a buddy works like a charm.
The hearing friend can take the fall by waking up to a miserable chiming alarm, and then stumble groggily into their deaf friend’s room to wake them up peacefully (or rudely, depending on the friend and his / her sense of humor).
While natural methods are ideal for maintaining healthy, deep sleep cycles, sometimes they just can’t cut it.
For deaf people who live alone or who naturally have a hard time waking up in the morning, these special gadgets will do the trick.
Vibrating Alarm Clocks
A vibrating alarm clock is one of the most standard tools used by deaf people to wake up on time, and they’re all pretty straightforward.
Usually, the vibrating alarm clock looks like a regular alarm clock, but there will be an extra “shaker” piece attached by a wire to the clock. The deaf person can place the shaker underneath their pillow, next to their body, or under their mattress.
When it’s time to wake up, the bed shaker starts vibrating. This notifies the RAS, which activates the rest of the brain.
Some vibrating alarm clocks even come with bright flashing lights which can be used with or without the vibrating unit (shaker piece).
Strobe Light Alarm Clocks
These alarm clocks work much like vibrating alarms, except they come with a high-powered light system instead of a shaker piece.
The deaf person sets the alarm, and when the time comes, the clock shoots a powerful flurry of light into the room. Similar to the vibrating alarm clock, the light goes through the eyes, notifies the RAS, and the rest is history.
Some of these strobe light alarm clocks are customizable, allowing users to adjust the color and intensity of the light.
Hearing Service Dogs
For deaf people who are also dog lovers, this one is a win-win.
Hearing service dogs, besides being incredibly loyal friends, can be trained to essentially act as a deaf person’s ears. They can listen for the sound of a standard, auditory alarm clock, and once they hear it, they jump up on the bed, waking up their owners with snuggles and licks.
These dogs are truly remarkable, and can do much more than just wake up their owners. They can listen for doorbells, door knocks, phone ringtones, and even emergencies, as discussed below.
When it comes to things like fire alarms, babies crying, gunshots, or other emergency situations, how are deaf people able to respond in a timely manner and stay safe?
In short, combinations of all the methods discussed above can be used for these purposes. Fire alarms can be customized to vibrate or beam out strobe lights, and baby monitors can provide a live video feed of the baby or simply sense crying and send vibrations to the parent’s bed.
Hearing service dogs are probably the best all-in-one solution for these problems, as they can be trained to notify their deaf owners in the event of any of the above emergency situations.
The question, “How do deaf people wake up,” is quite easily answered once we understand how the brain works. The SCN controls the whole sleep / wake cycle, while the RAS is the actual waker-upper.
Deaf people’s brains work the same way as hearing people’s brains, just without the auditory component. So anything that can notify the RAS without using sound (vibrations, light, dogs, etc.) will work just fine in accomplishing the objective: rudely snapping a deaf person out of their peaceful slumber.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do deaf people wake up to fire alarms?
In order to wake up in the event of a fire, a deaf person must install a specially configured fire alarm that sends vibrations or strobe lights into their bedroom, or have a hearing service dog present.
How do deaf people wake up without alarms?
Deaf people can wake up to alarms—just not auditory alarms. They can use gadgets like vibrating and/or strobe light alarm clocks, or hearing service dogs. Natural methods like establishing a consistent sleep / wake cycle, and being woken up by a friend, also helps.
How do deaf parents wake up to a baby’s cries?
Deaf parents can wake up to their baby’s crying throughout the night by using a baby monitor with strobe light, a vibrating baby monitor, or a hearing service dog.
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